The notion of the bad body allows for bad things to be done to any body and anything human or non-human that has become body identified.
Where did it all begin? How has it happened that we have nurtured such an ethos of disrespect for the earth and all that is therein? How has it happened that we have fostered an ethic of indifference for that which is different? How has it happened that we have cultivated an environment hostile to the well-being of our very selves? Where did this cycle of violence against the sacredness of all that is begin?
These are the questions that have troubled my mind and soul over these last few days as we have once again been reminded of the unimaginable and painful price we pay for not asking the hard questions of ourselves and trying to discover the seeds of our inhumanity. As I have tried to answer these questions one word has continually come to the forefront of my mind: “wholeness.” As a womanist, informed by Alice Walker’s definition of a womanist as one who strives for wholeness, I have increasingly recognized that perhaps it all begins with a betrayal of the wholeness of creation itself. Most of us are influenced by a Western view of the world that sees things in either/or paradigms. The way in which we engage the world and ourselves is shaped by a dualistic consciousness. Thus, distinctiveness becomes “other,” paradoxes become opposition. Such a dualistic worldview undermines the unity of all being. It defies the complex harmony of the universe. And, it most especially disrupts our appreciation for our own bodies and the bodies of others. Disdain and cavalier regard for the body and the earth becomes virtually inevitable.
The ever-present body/soul split, which perhaps seemed so abstractly innocuous went viral and has acted as a virus upon our very humanity. It has certainly impacted the ways in which we interact with one another, the earth, and ourselves. Its implications have been menacing for numerous bodies. The notion of the bad body allows for bad things to be done to any body and anything human or non-human that has become body identified. The idea that the body must be overcome in order to achieve “salvation/goodness,” lays the foundation for overcoming those things regarded as “bodied” realities, or to at least rule over them. Subjugation of various people’s can be “rationally” justified. Abuse of the earth and certain human bodies can be carried out with relative impunity. A worldview that creates “others” and “others” the body is not innocuous; it is lethal. It perpetuates violence against bodies—sometimes even our own. And so what are we to do about it?
I am reminded of the worldview that prevails in many African religions and cultures. This is a view that emphasizes the harmony of all that is, human and divine. It celebrates the wholeness of human beings—body and soul. There are no sacred/secular splits, no body/soul divide. Everything is seen as a part of a unified divine reality. Difference is a reflection of the richness of life itself. Paradox is appreciated as the mystery of harmony itself. Moreover, all that is different is compelled to work together for life to thrive. Any disruption and disharmony is considered evil. Goodness and truth is found in the restoration of harmony. This understanding of the intrinsic harmony/wholeness of all that exists is perhaps at the root of ying/yang in various Eastern traditions as well as the foundation of the Christian incarnation. The belief in God becoming human certainly defies any notion of an evil body and reveals the insufferable character of sacred/secular divides.
Where did it all begin? I truly do not know. But I wonder if a new beginning is possible as long as we unable to affirm and claim the sacred wholeness of our created difference? These are my random questions.
Kelly Brown Douglas is Professor and Director of the Religion Program at Goucher College where she has held the Elizabeth Conolly Todd Distinguished Professorship. She was recently awarded The Goucher College Caroline Doebler Bruckerl Award for outstanding faculty achievement. Kelly is a leading voice in the development of a womanist theology, Essence magazine counts Douglas “among this country’s most distinguished religious thinkers, teachers, ministers, and counselors.” She has published numerous essays and articles in national publications, and her books include The Black Christ, Sexuality and the Black Church, What’s Faith Got to Do With It?: Black Bodies/Christian Soul. Black Bodies and the Black Church: A Blues Slant is her most recently released book (Palgrave Macmillan, Fall 2012). Kelly is also a priest in the Episcopal Church and has served as Associate Priest at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. for over 20 years.